The Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner filed a recent appeal decision in the case of Michael McBurney v. Agri Star Meat & Poultry.
Mr. McBurney’s claim was that he was knocked down by a fork lift and suffered a low back injury.
The Employer and Workers’ Compensation Insurance Company defended the case based on the following arguments:
- McBurney had failed to disclose to his treating physicians that he had an extensive history of prior low back problems and treatment. Therefore, the opinions of the treating doctors were based on incorrect information.
- There was a dispute on whether the fork lift knocked Mr. McBurney down or only bumped into him.
- After Mr. McBurney was injured while working for Agri Star and underwent surgery, he was able to return to work and actually receive a promotion to foreman and a pay increase. McBurney ended up leaving his job with Agri Star not because of his work injury, but because he and his girlfriend broke up. This left Mr. McBurney without a place to live near his job, and he returned to his home town to live with his parents.
- The record also indicated that when Mr. McBurney left his employment he was suffering from mental health issues relating to his break up with his girlfriend.
- The Defendants obtained an opinion from a consulting doctor that Mr. McBurney’s low back injury and need for surgery was not caused by the accident at Agri Star.
The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner did find that Mr. McBurney was not truthful with his doctors after his Agri Star injury, but still ruled in favor of Mr. McBurney based on the following reasoning:
- Although Mr. McBurney had a long history of low back problems and treatment, none of his medical providers had recommended surgery until after he was injured while working for Agri Star.
- The doctor that performed surgery for Mr. McBurney after the Agri Star injury had been told by Mr. McBurney that he had no prior back problems. However, the doctor could tell from various tests and the surgery that Mr. McBurney did in fact have preexisting low back problems. The treating physician gave the opinion that Mr. McBurney had a preexisting low back condition, and that condition had been aggravated by the fork lift accident.
- As a result the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner entered an award in favor of Mr. McBurney providing for healing period benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and payment of medical expenses.
The main teaching point from this case is that an injured worker does not have to have a perfect case in order to win. Iowa Workers’ Compensation law recognizes that many workers will have preexisting physical problems; and if those problems are aggravated by their work, the injured worker will be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
In Mr. McBurney’s case his reports to his treating physicians after the Agri Star accident that he had no history of prior back problems could have been fatal for his case. It was crucial for Mr. McBurney’s case that his treating surgeon disregarded Mr. McBurney’s assertions and made his own judgment that there were preexisting problems. If the doctor had relied on Mr. McBurney’s statement that he had no history of low back problems, then the doctor’s causation opinion probably would have been rejected by the Commissioner.
It is important for injured workers to be truthful about every aspect of their case. If the Defendants can show that a worker has been untruthful about a single issue in the case, the Defendants can frequently convince the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner to view everything else the worker says with suspicion and skepticism. This in turn can lead to a reduced amount of money being awarded to the worker, or even a complete decision in favor of the defense.
Mr. McBurney was fortunate that his statements about no prior low back injuries did not lead to him losing his case.
Always tell the truth in workers’ compensation cases.